Sunday, January 31, 2016

Improvising - a disaster for recipes?

Last weekend I decided to try a new chili recipe, mainly because I wanted to use up the ground turkey I had thawed and get rid of the butternut squash on the counter that’s been staring me down for weeks. I looked up one of those reader reviewed recipe websites, you know, the kind where readers try and replicate a submitted recipe by boasting about how delicious it was after they changed at least a third of the ingredients. I’m not one of those readers. At least 90 percent of the time I am a stick-to-every-detail kind of recipe follower.

This time I got brave. I strayed. With all good intentions of following the recipe to the letter, I decided to double the ingredients. My kitchen could have been mistaken for the canned goods section of a grocery store, there were that many little aluminum vessels of sauce, beans, broth, chilies and hominy taking over the counter. By the way, now I know what hominy is and where to find it on the shelves. I’m not sure what the purpose is of torturing poor, defenseless kernels of corn and stripping them of their golden sunshiny color, but it was a very nice addition to the chili.

I like my chili to have substance and not turn out like soup, even though I love a good soup. I also want it to have gusto, which should be the goal of any chili, in my humble opinion. So I deviated just a slight bit from the original recipe, which was minus the kick for me, by draining a couple of things it specifically said not to drain and adding a few extra spices. Nothing too crazy, just some oregano, a few red pepper flakes, and a touch of hot paprika straight from Budapest (you heard about Second Born’s study abroad and our trip, didn’t you? I can remind you later). The end result was a little taste of heaven with a dash of devilish heat.

Growing up in an Italian home, watching my mom cook was like seeing great art being created. When my parents owned a family style restaurant her days were spent putting together enticing dishes and bringing them into the restaurant. It was torture coming home from school to the scintillating aroma of eggplant parmigiana or sausage and meatballs, only to have it be packed up and carted away. The nerve of her to cook my favorites for other families.

My older sister has wonderful memories of learning to cook with Mom. My only memory is sneaking into the kitchen after she started the spaghetti sauce – which also meant trying not to leave footprints on the freshly washed kitchen floor - so I could dunk a piece of bread in and wolf it down before she returned.

When Mom was cooking for our little family she was an expert at reeling us in with her delectable meals. But ask her for a recipe and it was almost impossible to pin her down. I’ve tried to replicate a couple of her dishes but I wonder whether it could really taste the same if it doesn’t come from her hands.

A few years ago I made the world’s best pork roast. Spouse loved it and raved about just how good it was. I used the perfect combination of olive oil and spices and perhaps a little wine as a marinade. Darned if I can remember just what the combination was, and I didn’t write it down because I was improvising. Obviously I need to make notes when I improvise.

There was one little glitch with last weekend’s foray into chili perfection. I got started later than expected on putting it together, so I stopped by the frozen food case for one item that wouldn’t take as long to prepare.  Guess what’s still taking up residence on my kitchen counter?

Looks like I’ll be giving butternut squash soup a try.

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